by Elana Varon

Book Review: How to Manage Innovation

Aug 15, 20062 mins

Like other media genres, business books are subject to fads. Thus, the proliferation of titles concerning innovation—how to generate it, manage it and make money from it. The final step depends on the successful execution of the first two. And yet, argue Curtis R. Carlson and William W. Wilmot in Innovation: The Five Disciplines for Creating What Customers Want, many great ideas wither for lack of a coherent value proposition, or they are torpedoed by fear. The authors share their approach for how to navigate these obstacles.

Carlson and Wilmot’s “five disciplines” encompass identifying important market needs, creating business value, championing innovative ideas, building and maintaining innovation teams and aligning innovation with the organization. The authors’ methodology comes from years of experience with research institute SRI International, known for pioneering the computer mouse, HDTV and robotic surgery. (Carlson is SRI’s CEO. Wilmot helped create SRI’s Disciplines of Innovation workshop for executives, which teaches the approach.)

Each chapter spotlights one aspect of the innovation process using detailed examples, such as how SRI pulled together its HDTV prototype team—and kept it together through grueling work. Refreshingly, the book also acknowledges failure: One “brilliant inventor” who got $6 million to develop an insulin patch for diabetics, was fired when he refused to collaborate and kept asking for raises.

Everyone knows that infighting can kill a great idea. The broader lesson of this book: Successful innovation is almost always hard, requiring dedicated leadership, a well-defined (and well-understood) project vision and a willingness to tackle problems quickly.